Forging bonds, online and beyond

Ottawa moms say social media has enabled them to expand their social circle – and find ‘amazing’ new sources of support, writes Tracey Tong.

online-2When Jathina Blais was pregnant with her son, she joined a Facebook group for mothers who were all expecting at around the same time.

The Ottawa mom discovered a space where she could share her experiences with women she knew would understand.

“It has been an incredibly supportive group and I know that without it, I would have been very lonely and less confident during this huge change in my life,” said Blais, 32.

“There is something special about women supporting women, and something even more special when you can meet the women who have responded right away to your 2 a.m. plea for advice.”

With their children now ages 18 to 22 months old, members of her tight-knit Facebook group continue to share advice, photos, and intimate details of their lives on a regular basis.

And many members have brought their online friendships into the real world with play dates, coffee dates, shopping trips and moms’ night out dinners.

And Blais is one of a growing number of parents who have joined a Facebook group, only to find real-life camaraderie.

“The wonderful thing about (online friendships) is that no matter what time of the day it is, there is always someone around – due to either time zones, or because they’re nursing in the middle of the night and popped on Facebook – for me to be able to inquire, vent or laugh with,” said Jill Paulin, mother to 20-month-old Zoe.

That’s precisely the reason why Ottawa resident Karen McIntyre created the moms’ group that Paulin and Blais belong to. “If I didn’t have this group, I would have gone crazy on my maternity leave,” she said.

“I had something going on every day because of the group and never had to be alone if I didn’t want to be.”

And Facebook has allowed Carleton Place resident Bonnie Reynolds to meet people she may not have met otherwise.

Sometimes, it’s easier to strike up a conversation with someone online than to meet someone face-to-face, said Reynolds, mother to Cian, 10, and Chloé, 20 months.

These friendships are not without their growing pains. Without the buffer of mutual friends or a work or school environment, meeting a friend you’ve only talked to online can seem strange at first – even if you’ve been chatting for months.

“Meeting an online friend in person for the first time is exhilarating, nerve-racking and awkward,” said Ottawa resident Mariah Ferguson. “But it can also be one of the most amazing experiences which can lead to an amazing friendship.”

Ferguson, a stay-at-home mom to toddler Scarlett, knew she had crossed the line from online friendship to real-life friendship when she and another mother began to correspond more regularly.

“Our chats online became important and daily; we always said hi in the morning and checked in on each other to see how it was going, before it slowly became weekly or biweekly visits,” she said.

And Paulin has shared things with her online friends that she would hesitate to tell people in real life. She’s found that she now has more in common with her new online friends than people she has known for years.

“Many of my real-life friends are not going through the same things I am at the moment. As much as we have other interests and hobbies in common, they may not have children or don’t have young children anymore, so can’t fully relate to what’s going on in my life right now.”

Then there’s the big reason these mothers joined the group in the first place: Paulin said her moms’ group has helped her become a stronger and more confident parent to her daughter.

“If I’ve had a rough day with my toddler, someone was always able to offer advice or just a listening ear to help me vent, relax and clear my head in order to be a better mother.

“The wealth of knowledge in this group is irreplaceable and I don’t know what I’d do without them.”